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Little League: "We Need Your Park"

By Rhonda Parfitt

At the meeting of the Oakland Borough Council on January 21st, Susquehanna Area Little League (SALL) representatives Kiera Hennessey, Rachael Thomas, and Kim Keyes petitioned the Council to revisit its plans to invest in the Oakland Park. In 2019, the Council purchased, with Impact Fee funds a set of engineered plans for a completely overhauled park in Oakland Borough. Park plans that concern the SALL are the reorientation of the ballfield, a new backdrop, new bleachers, new concession stand and parking. Kiera Hennessey acknowledged that the Council had planned to begin the park revamping this summer, but then the COVID-19 pandemic complicated the situation. The three women expressed that approximately 150 area children are enrolled in the Little League program and emphatically stated that the Oakland Park is imperative to their operation. Among the requested changes for the 2021 season were bleacher repairs and repairs to the steps that lead from the park entrance down to the field. It was noted that a league for children with disabilities was being started and that SALL would like to play their games at the Oakland Park but that it was just not feasible at this time because of the park's current condition. They stated that they were excited about the new park plans and are looking forward to watching them come to fruition but requested that the Council make immediate repairs for the 2021 season. Council President Gary Boughton acknowledged their requests and stated that the Council would discuss feasible options and be in contact.

During normal business, committee reports were accepted with no qualms, employee pay rates were stated for the record, and Brian T. Kelly CPA & Associates was appointed as the auditor for the year 2020.

Another noteworthy item of the meeting was the treasurer's report in which Ms. Parfitt provided the ending balances of the last three fiscal years. At 2018's year end, the balance available for general expenditures was $24,626; 2019 year-end balance was $34,922 for the same; and the 2020 year-end balance was $87,811. Other end-of-year figures for 2020 showed $54K remaining in Impact Fee funds with another deposit coming in July 2021, $30K remaining in Liquid Fuels funds with another deposit coming in March, and $12K in emergency savings with another deposit coming in April. Oakland is looking forward to a bright and productive 2021 provided that the financial implications of the COVID-19 pandemic do not stand in the way.

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Harford's Water Conundrum

By Ted Brewster

It was billed as a special meeting since the "regular" meeting for January was supposed to be the organization meeting on the 4th. But it took place on the third Tuesday, the 19th, so it was also another regular meeting. The Harford Township Supervisors considered the two issues outstanding from the first "regular" meeting, and also some other matters that cropped up in the meantime.

One of those was addressed by Jeff Kyle, of Davis Gregory & Kyle, popularly known as DGK of Factoryville, an insurance company used by most municipalities in the area. DGK is an agent for Glatfelter Public Practice, an insurance broker. The coverage offered by DGK in this case is provided by National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, which is an arm of AIG. Got all that?

Walking the Supervisors through a 43-page renewal package, Mr. Kyle said that the township's claims history was "an issue" in keeping the cost low; the plan represents a 4% overall increase in premium. The package appears to be comprehensive, covering property, personnel and equipment for damage and liability. Mr. Kyle said that it is "specifically designed for governmental entities" and will cover all of Harford's many parts: the township, the sewer system, the water system, the new parks authority, and the fire company. (It does not include health insurance for township employees.) Under the proposal, the new premium would be $27,607. Each year the township needs to review what is covered and what is not, and will provide documentation for recent changes before the final package is prepared.

Discussing workmen's compensation coverage, Mr. Kyle drew the Supervisors' attention to Senate Bill 94, recently passed in Harrisburg, that requires volunteer fire companies to notify their responsible municipalities of their various events not specifically related to their primary function, events such as barbecues, venue rentals, benefit events, etc. so that suitable insurance coverage can be provided. The township would have to sign off on these notices. Claims related to such events had caused commercial insurers to drop coverage, leaving fire companies to the mercies of the State Workers Insurance Fund operated by the state government.

The special meeting was scheduled in order to solicit the advice of the township's solicitor, Jamie Hailstone. For one thing, the Supervisors wanted him to bless their choice of Northeast Inspection Consultants (NEIC) to handle building code enforcement. Some clients of JHA, Harford's consulting engineers, have been less than happy with the people assigned to code inspections. As Supervisor Dustin Walker said, "the people want a change, so we'll give them one." Several area municipalities have been switching to NEIC. Mr. Hailstone had no objection.

The other issue for which Supervisors wanted advice was more difficult: the price of water in the village of Harford, specifically, for the Harford Village Apartments (HVA). The Susquehanna County Housing & Redevelopment Authority (SCHRDA) that operates the HVA has asked for a discount on their assessment for domestic water supply.

When the township took over the Harford water system late last year, the Supervisors developed a budget for 2021 that would require $600 for each of the 50-some households using the system. For the 20 units in the HVA that would be more than the SCHRDA had budgeted. The housing authority argues that its clients are mostly elderly residents on modest fixed incomes. They want the $12,000 assessed (an increase from $5,250) to be cut to about $6,000. Since the HVA represents about half of the township's budget for the water system, the Supervisors aren't sure that it would be fair to burden the other subscribers with the difference.

A resident of Harford attending the meeting suggested that the township subsidize that difference, perhaps from Act 13 "impact fee" revenue. She said that the low-income elderly in the village deserve their compassion.

The Supervisors clearly sympathized with that argument, but were in a quandary that their responsibility is to the entire township. Mr. Walker said that the township had three times requested a meeting with the SCHRDA, so far with no response. So the Supervisors asked Mr. Hailstone to reach out to the authority and try to find a solution. In any event, Mr. Walker said that the water would not be cut off to the HVA.

On a related matter, township Secretary Carolyn Jennings told the Supervisors that she had been asked to bring an appeal to the board from Estabrook Excavating for expenses incurred on projects for the water system. When the system was taken over by the township, the Supervisors weren't inclined to honor claims by contractors under the old regime. (The company operating the system, Farnham Associates, had the same problem, but accepted the loss.)

As a compromise, Mr. Walker proposed that the township assume the cost of materials and fuel used on those projects, but not for labor or time. He asked Ms. Jennings to request an itemized invoice from Estabrook for later consideration.

To hear how all this plays out, consider attending the next meeting of the Harford Township Supervisors, scheduled for Tuesday, February 16, 2021, beginning at 7:00pm at the township office on Route 547.

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New Milford Boro Starts New Year

By Ted Brewster

The New Milford Borough Council kicked off the new year on January 21st not with a bang, or with a whimper, but with the measured good will fostered by President Teri Gulick. They began by more or less re-organizing themselves back to the future.

Rick Ainey was reappointed to the vacancy board, Michael Briechle continues as solicitor, Borough Secretary remains the able Amy Hine, Peoples Security Bank & Trust is still the borough's designated bank, and the borough will continue to use both the Montrose Independent and the County Transcript for official advertising. Dan Totten will continue as Emergency Management Coordinator, assisted by Ken Bondurant. Scott Fisher will continue to represent the borough at the county Planning Commission. Zach Conrad and Dawn Koehler were reappointed to 5 year terms at the New Milford Municipal Authority. (Council member Don Sutton also sits on the Authority board of directors.) And Joyce Cobb has agreed to serve another 3-year term on the Zoning Hearing Board.

When Council considered the Treasurer's Report, Ms. Gulick characterized the $3,744 bill from Great Bend Borough for police coverage as "scary," but acknowledged that the increase of $3 per hour in the new contract with Great Bend accounted for some of it.

The borough received notice from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) that the borough would be paid $500 for a right-of-way on the east side of Interstate 81 comprising all of three hundredths of an acre, in conjunction with the planned redevelopment of the highway.

Council also received a request from Karen Gudykunst for $50 reimbursement for training. Ms. Gudykunst would also like an adjustment in her compensation as borough tax collector; such adjustments may only be made at the start of a tax collector's 4-year term. As tax collector for New Milford Township, Ms. Hine explained the situation to council: some taxing entities pay collectors as a percentage of taxes collected; others are paid for each bill handled. Using the former method, the tax collector doesn't get paid for bills that can't be collected, although some municipalities and school districts pay a fixed amount for such bills. On Ms. Gulick's suggestion, Ms. Gudykunst would be paid for the training out of budgeted funds. Ms. Gulick and her colleagues then agreed to refer the question of compensation to council's Personnel Committee.

When the question of parking enforcement came up, Ms. Hine said that Solicitor Briechle had asked, "what really do you want enforced?" Great Bend Police Chief Jon Record has expressed similar confusion. It seems the borough has several ordinances covering parking, so Mr. Briechle will be asked to find a way through the tangle.

Mr. Briechle has also been asked to shepherd a new code enforcement ordinance to completion, a subset of the International Property Management Code (IPMC). He has told council that the next step is for council to establish a fee schedule. He has also said that council needs to appoint 3 members to an appeals board, and preferably 3 alternates. Understanding that finding 3 people willing to serve would be difficult enough, Ms. Hine and council members were asked to beat the bushes for candidates. Along the way, council tabled any reorganization of its own committees.

Mayor Scott Smith claimed positive ground when he commended the borough's crew and contractors for clearing up 2 feet of snow recently. Ms. Gulick seconded, saying that she had heard "not one complaint."

And Ms. Gulick encouraged her colleagues to think positive about a Midtown Festival this summer. Tentatively scheduled for Saturday, June 5, council and interested citizens and vendors will soon begin planning to resume the annual celebration that had to be cancelled in 2020.

The New Milford Borough Council will meet next in public session on Thursday, February 17. 2021 beginning at 6:30pm at the borough office on Main Street.

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